Discover more from Asia Sentinel
Asia Sentinel Blocked in Singapore
Controversy over demand for correction
Access to Asia Sentinel’s website has apparently been blocked in Singapore by the country’s Ministry of Communications and Information, according to local media, after we refused to comply with an order to correct a May 24, 2023 article concerning the use of government power against dissenters. Asia Sentinel cited statements confirming the veracity of our reporting. The government demanded that Asia Sentinel carry the correction at the top of our website for 30 days, which we refused to do.
Although Asia Sentinel has yet to be officially informed, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information told local media on June 2 that it had directed the Infocomm Media Development Authority to issue access blocking orders, which require local Internet service providers to disable access for end users to the online location where the alleged falsehoods were communicated.
While the blockage does deny general Singaporean readers access to Asia Sentinel’s website, it will have little effect on subscribers as AS is published on the Substack platform as a newsletter, which it means it is available in email accounts.
As a US-domiciled concern, Asia Sentinel is also protected by the so-called “Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act,” which makes foreign defamation judgments unenforceable in US courts, unless either the foreign legislation applied offers at least as much protection as the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States concerning free speech, or if the defendant would have been found liable even if the case had been heard under US law.
Local media also reported Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement threatening to take further action against Asia Sentinel. But while we had hoped this matter could be settled amicably by printing Singapore’s demand for a correction and our rejoinder to the demand, the government has refused to be satisfied with being heard prominently with its complaints permanently on the website in their proper place, as is practice in other countries. The Ministry of Home Affairs charged that “If Asia Sentinel truly believes in free speech, it should be happy for its readers to read both the article and the correction notice, and make up their own minds which is true.” Readers could have done so since May 26. Both the demand for correction and our rejoinder have been available and still are.
Here is the original demand from the Singapore government, and our rejoinder, published May 26:
The Singapore government, under Section 11 of its “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act of 2019 (POFMA), has demanded that under legal obligations imposed by the powers of POFMA, Asia Sentinel post a correction of our May 24 story titled Killing the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys. Although we have posted the government’s demand, we stand by our story.
First, we are domiciled in California in the United States, which would be the appropriate place for any potential legal action by Singapore, and we are not subject to demands or threats of the Singapore government.
Statements of fact
The Government quarrels with the following assertions:
The Singapore government alleges we were incorrect in pointing out that Singapore Government officials threatened to end Nikkei Inc.’s business operations in Singapore. We stand by that assertion. The threat was made by an unnamed official at the Embassy of the Government of Singapore during the government’s attempts to get Nikkei Asian Review to withdraw an article critical of the Singapore government's handling of KTV lounges during the Covid-19 crisis. Asia Sentinel verified the threat from two sources who prefer to remain nameless out of fear of retaliation, and is satisfied with its veracity.
The government says that because Nikkei printed a letter to the editor from the Singapore government over the issue, that constitutes a Nikkei retraction. That is not true. That merely demonstrates that Nikkei was willing to grant a courtesy to the Singapore government, which traditionally has demanded a right to be heard.
Our story reported that M Ravi was suspended from practicing law for five years because he had criticized the government. The government disputed that. We quote from an Amnesty International press statement issued on 16 May 2023 concerning Mr. Ravi’s suspension: “In March, the Singapore Court of Three Judges suspended the practicing license of human rights lawyer M Ravi who specializes in death penalty cases. The court suspended M Ravi’s license for five years in response to statements he made outside a courthouse and posts he shared on Facebook in 2020 about his client, Gobi Avedian, after he was spared the death penalty. M Ravi criticized the Public Prosecutor and the government for their “overzealous” prosecution of Gobi and called for an apology to his client. When the Attorney General’s Chamber sent him a letter calling on him to apologize and renounce his statements, he refused and posted the letter on Facebook. While a disciplinary tribunal had already found M Ravi guilty of misconduct and imposed a fine of SGD 6,000 (USD 4,500), he then faced further penalties for the same comments. M Ravi’s suspension, the latest in a series of sanctions against him, came a year after Singapore resumed executions of people on death row. His latest sanction appears timed to further stifle criticism of the death penalty, a practice the current government vigorously defends amidst intensified criticism domestically and abroad.”
The government disputes our reporting that Lee Hsien Yang, the Prime Minister's brother, and his wife Lee Suet Fern were forced to leave Singapore because government action was threatened against them for their family dispute with the prime minister. Lee Hsien Yang has repeatedly said he left Singapore because he and his wife feared for their safety. Lee Hsien Yang was one of Singapore’s most prominent businessmen. He and his wife were involved in no controversies prior to their three-year struggle over the disposition of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s home. That struggle within the family has been widely reported including several times by Asia Sentinel. It is difficult to think of any other reason the two were forced to leave Singapore out of fear unless it was the use of the government's power against them in what amounted to a family dispute. In fact, in a Facebook post on March 7, Lee Hsien Yang said he had been made a fugitive by his country for standing up for a promise to his late father, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. We would refer the government to Mr. Lee’s Facebook page for further confirmation.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act is a draconian provision by the Singapore government that has been used against the press, political figures and Singapore's critics, and anyone else who dares to raise a voice against it. We believe it is being used against Asia Sentinel because we reported fairly and completely on the controversy over the government's attempts to silence a critic. We repeat, we stand by our story.